In college, I got an FCC license and became a radio DJ. My show aired from 2-4 AM and had 2-4 listeners, most of whom were either Architecture or Graphic Design majors. The exception was a convicted killer named Jon.
Penn State is about 5 miles away from a maximum security prison. Our broadcast area covered the towns of State College, Bellefonte, Lemont, and Boalsburg. It also covered Rockview State Penitentiary.
Jon used to send me intricate drawings of Cramps’ skulls and dismembered heads. The drawings took him hours to complete. He’d sign each one and include a note telling me what songs he liked from the week before. He’d end his correspondence by requesting a song or two.
I always obliged. I guess I figured that if that particular lifer ever got out, he’d spare me based on the number of Exploited songs I played for him. Plus, I had trouble saying no. But Jon isn’t why I’m writing today.
Today, I’m writing about a guy named Billy.
It wasn’t long before I became the New Music Director, which basically meant working longer hours for no money. My job was to organize the CD and record collections, tidy up the workspace, and report for all staff meetings. I also got an earlier time slot.
The most important job I had was to phone in the top 25 bands for the week into CMJ Music Report. The CMJ Music Report was extremely important to managers, publicists and bands all over the nation. To get your name onto the top 25 list of a few dozen radio stations’ was considered awesome with a capital Q. (As a graphic designer, I imagine it was like having something published in Communication Arts.)
Of course, this led to all sorts of bribery, bribery I took part in from time to time. Publiciscts would offer me free stuff, sending CD after CD, “GIVE THEM TO YOUR FRIENDS!” and then they would call back and ask me why said band never made it onto the top 25. “I sent you free stuff. Can’t you do me this one favor?”
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I find it very hard to say NO to someone. I am just a giant pushover. And the problem with the whole Top 25 CMJ thing was that there were only 25 spots to fill and about 200 phone calls each week. Which pretty much meant I was the worst New Music Director ever. I couldn’t say no to anyone.
So, If I DID answer the call, I’d say something promising and then hang up only to be torn apart the following week for putting Buffalo Tom above Daisy Chainsaw. “YOU PROMISED ME THAT DAISY CHAINSAW WOULD BE IN THE TOP FIVE!”
These people would offer anything from free music to fake vomit. (Yes, that came to me once). I received free t-shirts and free concert tickets. Some of them even offered interviews. I interviewed Rusted Root (who smelled of body odor and last night’s sex). I interviewed Big Chief, Black Train Jack (Who? Exactly.), and my most favorite band at the time, Quicksand. I met Lita Ford (who had nothing to do with our genre, but I couldn’t say no) who was visiting and signing autographs at a local guitar shop. I stood in line and got her to record our call letters.
“You’re listening to 91.1, WPSU, State College, Pennsylvania.”
Only I wrote it like this:
“You’re listening to 91.1 WPSU, ST. College, PA.”
And she read this:
“You’re listening to 91.1 WPSU, SAINT College, PA.”
And we kept it and played it almost every week for a month.
The seediest and therefore most successful publicist was a person who not only worked with the crappy, no-name bands but who also worked with someone huge. They would use the popular band as currency for the less popular bands.
“If you move [insert crappy band here] into the top 25 on CMJ, I’ll give you two free tickets to see Nirvana this Saturday.”
One day I was fulfilling my hours when a publicist called. He wanted me to push a really awful band into the top 25 that week.
“If you do this for me, I have two tickets to see the Smashing Pumpkins this week for a sold out show at the 9:30 Club. I would like you to interview Billy Corgan as well.”
I agreed to the deal. I put that no-name, horrible band at 24 and took the free tickets. And later that week my boyfriend and I hopped in his car and drove to Washington, DC. I brought the station’s high end microphone and tape recorder with me even though I had no intention of interviewing Billy Corgan.
What the publicist didn’t know was that previously, Billy Corgan threw a shoe at someone during a Rec Hall show at Penn State and the New Music Director watched in horror. The publicist didn’t know that Billy Corgan called us all a “bunch of fucking idiot frat boys!” He had no idea that Billy Corgan asked a hall full of people “Aren’t you missing a football game?” The publicist had no idea that Billy Corgan did all of that or that if Billy Corgan was capable of launching an attack on a couple thousand people, there’s no telling what he’d do to a lanky 19-year-old girl with a borrowed microphone.
I watched the show from the VIP section in the top tier of the 9:30 Club and it was a great show. Afterwards I didn’t step foot backstage to interview Billy Corgan. There was no way this teenage girl was going to be reduced to tears while the lead singer of Smashing Pumpkins did something similar to her ego.
Part of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), where one writes every day for the month of November, which is easier said than done.
what a douche bag. Can I say that? Man that guy is such a wanker. great career you have there billy. If you hate us so much why come out in the first place? Oh, cause you are a money loving douche with no integrity to back up your awesome punk rock attitude.
I am loving this series michele. I want to know more about John.
ya..i’ve heard that billy’s an ass from many a people. he sure does make some good angst ridden music though. i wouldn’t have interviewed him either. good call—as to stay in one lanky piece.
OMG, it is college radio blast from the past week. My old General Manager from my first year at WUMD tracked me down on MySpace over the weekend! Ah, this post is bringing back the memories.
My Program Director and I used to send out candy, stickers, all sorts of obnoxious stuff with our Top 25 lists. We got a lotta free drinks at the CMJ convention that year.
I had the opportunity but never met Corgan, precisely because I had heard he was a massive prick. I also have less than fond memories of Natalie Merchant and Jakob “DON’T ASK ABOUT MY FATHER” Dylan. But the awesome that I experienced during that time in my life far outweighed the bad stuff.
Do you remember the name of the band that you put in the 24th spot? This story kind of breaks my Happy Bubble (the thoughts I prefer to think because the world MUST be good to live in.) And here I thought bands made it on talent and audience appeal…
I was offered a teaching position at that prison but I had to turn it down because I didn’t have a car. If the thought of a 24-year-old female teaching economics to prisoners seems odd, odder still was the anecdote floating around the econ department that the prisoners were among the best students anyone had ever had. One guy had actually read NAFTA.
in college i interned for a small town newpaper in vermont and HAD to cover this music festival :) the goo goo dolls were complete a$$holes and refused interviews. marcy playground, however, were sweethearts and not only gave me an interview, but also let me take my picture with them.
I loved this. I never liked the Smashing Pumpkins, and now I feel somehow vindicated.
he’s kind of pathetic these days, don’t you think? and he’s notorious for his ego problems with publicity type things. i’ve heard mixed reviews from the venue side, but most signs point to eh.
but i bet he just got too excited at getting another result on google ;)
Uh, that show was in 1991. The Pumpkins were unknown at the time. They were the opening band. Corgan was 24.
Actually knowing the man as I do, my only wonder is how much stuff was thrown at him that night before he retaliated.
Hey, Jason, not trying to sound shitty, but what’s your point?